A beginners’ guide to farmers’ markets: Part 1

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Posted Mar 10 2021 by Sarah Young of Ethical.net
Farmers' markets

Not sure how to make the most of your local farmers’ market? In the first part of A beginners’ guide to farmers’ markets, Elizabeth Waddington of Ethical.net sets out how and why shopping at your local farmers’ market can make a real and positive difference.

Farmers’ markets are places for purchasing local produce, and where producers can connect directly with those who eat their food. But how exactly does this differ from a regular market? Why should we shop at them, and can we really afford to do so? How can they be found? And what should we expect from one anyway? Read on, as we provide answers to these common questions.

How do farmers’ markets differ from regular markets?

The difference is simple: a regular market is a collection of stalls run by distributors. Often, they may have no idea where the produce they sell originates.

Stalls at a farmers’ market, on the other hand, are operated by people who can tell you all about the products on sale and exactly where they came from. Often, those doing the selling – who are usually very local – actually grew the crops, reared the livestock, or made the products on display.

Why farmers’ markets are good for shopping ethically

In the modern world, there is often a disconnect between food production and those who eat the end result. Many people have little regard for the origins of what they eat, meaning they do not think about its true cost – not only financially, but also in terms of people, and the planet.

By contrast, farmers’ markets have greater transparency and a much shorter chain between food production and consumer, making them a more ethical choice for shoppers.

Whenever we put anything on our plates, or into our mouths, we should think about:

  • The carbon cost of both growing the food and transporting it to us.
  • The overall environmental impact of the growing system or form of agriculture employed.
  • The human cost of food growth and production.

Problems with the current food system

The current agricultural and food production system is broken; we urgently need to create sustainable change in this area. Fixing the disconnect between producers and consumers is just one part of the puzzle, but shopping at farmers’ markets is a beneficial change.

It is important to fully understand the problems we face, so, what is wrong with the food system as it currently stands? Here are some of the main issues:

  • Much of our food is not grown locally, but instead transported great distances around the world.
  • Consumers are disconnected from the seasons, demanding produce that must be grown abroad, or in hothouses which guzzle energy (not usually from renewable sources).
  • Non-organic, mono-crop agriculture damages soil, as well as using harmful pesticides and herbicides that pollute the environment and disrupt the wild food chain. If we do not change our approach, the topsoil essential for food production could be gone in as little as 60 years.
  • There is little to no transparency in food supply chains, meaning it is often difficult to determine where food has actually come from, and where and how it has been grown.
  • Supermarkets put a strangle-hold on the industry, dragging down prices and making difficulties for farmers and producers.
  • Food is often packaged in unnecessary plastic or other non-sustainable packaging – posing a waste problem of massive proportions.

How shopping at farmers’ markets can help

Farmers’ markets allow us to buy local, seasonal, and – ideally – organic, sustainably-produced fresh produce, and food and drink products. This enables us to withdraw support for damaging systems, to avoid supermarkets, and move closer to a truly sustainable and ethical diet.

We all have a fundamental entitlement to food, which would ideally be enshrined as a basic right informing government policy. Yet, at present, this is not the case. Transparency in food production is key to empowering people and affirming their right to healthy, good-quality food. Shopping at farmers’ markets can help strengthen resilient and transparent local food supply systems.

Buying loose produce at a farmers’ market can often also help us reduce plastic waste too, since a growing number of market sellers choose to wrap or package goods in more sustainable ways.

The personal benefits of shopping at farmers’ markets

Shopping in this way not only reduces our negative impact on the environment and other people: it can also bring a range of personal benefits. Access to fresh, local, and organic produce means eating more healthily, avoiding harm to your health from overly processed goods, junk food, and harmful chemicals.

What’s more, shopping at farmers’ markets can provide enjoyable new experiences. Even when only buying a few items, it can be great fun to see the different products on display, and meet the people who produce them. The experience is not just about shopping: it can be a social one too. And if you live in a city, speaking with farmers and rural producers can be a great way to gain insight into different ways of life.

How farmers’ markets help farmers and growers

Remember, shopping at farmers’ markets can help farmers and growers too. Buying their wares directly means supporting them by making sure money goes into their hands, rather than those of middle-men and big business.

For farmers and producers, the opportunity to sell their wares through one of these markets can be a godsend. A market stall can allow them to:

  • Sell smaller quantities. (Great for smaller community growers, farms, and businesses, who cannot upscale to supermarket or wholesale selling.)
  • Avoid distributors who take a cut of the profits.
  • Sell directly, seeing customers face-to-face, giving an opportunity to explain what they do, and the benefits of their food and methods firsthand.
  • Learn from their customers and sales what works and what doesn’t, in order to optimise business plans and strategy.
  • Find a new revenue stream and diversify their business.
  • Forge connections with the wider community, away from their farm or home. Farming and food production can often be a lonely and isolating business, so market stalls offer the chance for pleasant social interactions, as well as commerce.

Part 2 is available here. Find the original post by Elizabeth Waddington on the Ethical.net blog. Main image by Beth Macdonald on Unsplash. Learn more about farmers’ markets and direct farm sales here.


Ethical.netAbout the author

Ethical.net is a collaborative platform for discovering and sharing ethical alternatives, whether purchasing from a social enterprise, thrift shopping, or learning how to fix your old phone instead of buying a new one. They aim to make ethical the new normal.